9/13/2015 Yellow Aster Butte
Yellow Aster Butte (per the trail description, not the map)
The first hike of the fall was primarily an attempt to find White-tailed Ptarmigan but though
I traipsed through the high country north of Mount Baker for more than six hours,
I saw none. Not that there weren't compensatory rewards. The huckleberry bushes were
brilliant, the lighting dramatic and the landscape wild and scenic. And the marmots were adorable.
Vine Maple and Alder above the trailhead
Huckleberry and Mountain Ash along the trail
A marine layer moved in overnight and the mountains were obscured by a low stratus overcast which
was beginning to break up by the time I reached the trailhead. I missed the turn off the Mount
Baker highway and wasted a half hour trying to find it before finally checking the map. The 4 1/2
miles up to the trailhead were really rough. The trail itself was pretty easy, climbing pleasantly
through forest for a couple of miles before starting to break out into meadows below Yellow Aster Butte.
At 3.5 miles the trail crosses the shoulder of the butte and a side trail climbs steeply up
to the right to the summit. It's worth noting that the
WTA trail description
and the map
agree as to which summit is the real Yellow Aster Butte. The map names the first summit west of
Gold Run Pass as Yellow Aster Butte but that summit is relatively inaccessible. West of that summit
is a prominent sharp peak which is the highest point on the ridge. From that peak the ridge runs
southwest about a third of a mile to a steep but rounded summit capped with crowberry, mountain
heath and alpine huckleberry, the latter brilliant red during our hike. It is that rounded summit
which is the destination of the Yellow Aster Butte trail.
Huckleberry patches below Yellow Aster Butte
Tarn below Yellow Aster Butte
Trail up towards Tomyhoi Peak
It was a good day for accipiters, beginning with the burly Northern Goshawk which had cruised down
into the valley as I traversed below the Butte. Then when I gained the ridge
Sharp-shinned Hawks starting sailing by at a rate of about one per minute, repeatedly flushing a
flock of about 50 American Pipits. One pipit almost got caught. Among the Sharpies were at least a
couple of Cooper's Hawks, larger and more stable as they soared overhead.
After surveying the country, I elected to drop down into the basin northwest of the summit
where tarns are scattered among ledge-capped knolls and colorful tents were scattered around the
tarns. I crossed the basin and climbed steeply up the other side following a boot path
north towards Tomyhoi Peak. After passing through a couple of tree bands I veered off to
the left towards open ridges where Ptarmigan surely must dwell. Perhaps they do but I
didn't see them.
The morning stratus had re-formed as a stratocumulus layer which gradually lifted off the lower
summits as I ascended. Yellow Aster Butte itself came into the clear as I sat
eating lunch in the lee of a young Mountain Hemlock. A pair of feuding Sharpies shot by and a
Redtail soared down over the basin. Chilled after eating, I hiked on up the broad ridge towards Tomyhoi until
I came to a steep drop into a narrow pass. I carefully made our way down into the gap but I was
blocked by a short scrambling step on the other side. I could have made it up but I was concerned
about getting back down so I turned around.
Spur northwest of Yellow Aster Butte
Tarns below Yellow Aster Butte
Yellow Aster Butte (shadow) and Goat Mountain (top center)
I hugged the east side of the ridge on the way down, stopped for a nap in a sheltered
meadow, descended off trail into the valley below the sharp peak on the ridge of Yellow Aster Butte.
As the cloud layer broke up I began at last to warm up in the sunshine. After climbing the
steep slopes up to the saddle, on the alert for Ptarmigan, I scrambled up the sharp peak. The trail up the peak was well-worn
but a bit intimidating without arms.
Yellow Aster Butte
Valley below Yellow Aster Butte
The views were great from both the sharp peak and the rounded summit. The clouds had lifted above
all the mountains except Shuksan and Baker. The late afternoon sun accentuated the glacier-smoothed
topography in the basin below as well as the reds and golds of huckleberries and meadows. I didn't
find a Ptarmigan but I did find joy there in the midst of such beauty.
(from left) Goat Mountain, Mount Shuksan, Yellow Aster Butte
Mount Baker (center) and Yellow Aster Butte (left)
Me and Tomyhoi Peak
Too soon I dropped into the shadow of the mountains and the colors faded to dusky greens
and blues. I thought I was done with photos for the day when I spotted a solitary
Band-tailed Pigeon perched on the leader of a young Mountain Hemlock by the trail. It waited
patiently while I fumbled with the camera and was still posing when I moved on.
Goat Mountain and tarn
It was a long drive back to Seattle, something like three hours. Lorenzo's Mexican restaurant had
just stopped serving for the night when I reached Sedro Worley shortly after 9 PM so
I continued on home to bed.
9/20/2015 Pelagic and Shore-birding trip
Ed and Delia joined me for the September 19 pelagic trip offered by Westport Seabirds.
Listening to pre-trip briefing
Ed and Delia
We had four species of Shearwaters with opportunities to compare Sooty and Short-tailed at close
range. We also had a South Polar Skua and all three Jaegers, though I got neither a good look at
nor a good photograph of the Long-tailed Jaeger.
Western Gulls trailed us back through the harbor into the marina, where Brown Pelicans roosted on
the breakwater and Heerman's Gulls on an abandoned float.
After a brief nap at the motel, we drove out to and out on Grayland Beach where we found a headless
Thresher Shark. A woman who had also stopped to look at it told us that the head was present
earlier in the day and showed us a picture she had taken. I suppose there is no law against cutting
off a dead shark's head but it seemed a transgression of some sort nonetheless. We cruised the
beach looking for Snowy Plovers until sunset then reported to the Islander for dinner with George
and Marianne and Andy and Eric. They had gone to the beach while we were napping and had found
Snowy Plovers on the right side of the access road. We had looked on the left side only.
Sanderling at sunset
Sooty Shearwaters just offshore
Early the next morning we drove around to Ocean Shores to bird the Game Range. George and the
others had already found the reported Ruff and pointed it out to us. We spent 20 minutes or so
studying Golden Plovers and both George and Andy concluded that one was American and the others
Pacifics, based on the relative lengths of the tertials and the primaries. I was pleased to
witness their deliberations because when I had studied Golden Plovers two weeks earlier at the
Game Range and had used the same criteria to distinguish them, but with less confidence. They
were not the same birds; mine had been molting adults and these were the brighter and more uniformly
Birding at Ocean Shores' Oyhut Game Range
Eric photographing longspurs
Also at the game range was a flock of about 10 Lapland Longspurs. They were quite tame so Eric and
I took lots of photos.
David and I drove down to Sunrise again in search of Ptarmigan. They were reported a day or two ago
out at the Mount Fremont lookout. I think this was the 15th time I've gone up into the mountains in
search of White-tailed Ptarmigan this year, and I was skunked once again. We did well for mammals
though, with a small Black Bear along the road up from White River to Sunrise, a large brown Black
Bear browsing on crowberries west of Frozen Lake, a herd of Mountain Goats above the trail up to
Mount Fremont and half a dozen individual Elk along highway 410 back to Greenwater. We also glimpsed
another Elk in the dark along the service road just west of the Sunrise parking lot while we were
out listening for Boreal Owls.
On the way up to Mount Rainier we stopped at our traditional chanterelle hunting spot. The trails
leading into the woods clearly indicate that we aren't the only ones who know about the mushrooms
there but it did not appear that anyone else had been up there picking. We found lots of mushrooms
in pretty good condition and collected about 6 pounds each in an hour. With that auspicious start,
I thought we'd find Ptarmigan for sure.
Chanterelle collecting gear
After looking for, and not finding, a black bear during the whole week of our 50 mile hike at the
end of August, I felt extraordinarily lucky to see two today. The first one was only about 10 feet
away, close enough that I felt nervous even inside the car. We might not have noticed the second
one, but when I asked another hiker who was returning to the parking lot if he had seen any
chicken-like birds during his hike, he said no but there's a big bear near Frozen Lake, so we were
looking for it. We found it on a ridge not too far above the Wonderland trail about a third of a
mile west of Frozen Lake. It appeared to be browsing on crowberries, which are plentiful this year.
They are juicy but not very sweet. It occurred to me that it would take an awful lot of them of
them to equal the caloric value of just one of the granola bars in my pack. Fortunately that did
not occur to the bear.
Black Bear along Sunrise road
Black Bear above Wonderland trail east of Frozen Lake
Backlit (brown) Black Bear
With such luck I felt certain that I would find a Ptarmigan, and I believed that the most promising
spot would be the ridge above Frozen Lake heading out to Mount Fremont. I have never been on that
ridge. Since it is off trail, I suspect the Park service frowns upon hikers venturing up there, but
it was getting to be late in the afternoon and there were few other hikers around to see us. The
mix of crowberries, grasses and forbs along with lots of rocks up on top of the ridge looked to me
like perfect Ptarmigan habitat. I sat down to peruse my surroundings but when something white
appeared over the crest of the slope below me it was not a Ptarmigan but rather a mountain goat, the
first of a herd of more than a dozen which were ascending from the valley below to bed down on the
ridge. They either did not notice me or did not care because they passed within about 100 feet of
where I was sitting. Most were in family groups of a male, female and one or two kids. The males
with their short but sharp horns could do me serious harm if they were so inclined so I watched them
carefully but they showed no signs of aggression or fear. Instead they casually browsed their way
diagonally up the hillside below me while I took lots of photos. I called out to David, ahead of me
on the ridge, but he didn't hear me and never even saw the herd of goats.
Frozen Lake and First Burroughs
Mountain Goat appearing
Goat couple, or a couple of goats
Dads and kids
Goat herd heading for bed
The mountain remained in the clouds all afternoon but a border of blue on the glaciers just below
the cloud line attested to blue sky above. Sunlight broke through in places shortly before sunset.
I imagined a miracle in which a ray of sunshine pierced the clouds to illuminate three White-tailed
Ptarmigan perched on a rock on the crest of the ridge above us out at the Fremont lookout. No
miracle happened other than the sunbeams glancing across the western flanks of the mountain and the
muted pinks and blues of the sunset over Grand Park. The every day kind of miracles.
Grand Park at sunset
Mount Rainier by moonlight
We ran into Bruce LaBar as we were hiking back up the service road to the parking lot at nightfall.
He was headed out to listen for Boreal Owls just as we had planned to do, so after stopping by the
car to bundle up we joined him. We hiked about a half-mile down the road by the light of the moon
but didn't hear much of anything. Well chilled, we headed back to the parking lot, no longer trying
to keep quiet, and then we heard an owl - a sharp descending "skiew" call. It was the classic
Boreal Owl "skiew" and I counted it for Washington year bird #317. We heard a few more calls,
probably from two different birds, but none of them were very close and we couldn't spot any with
On the way out I tried for a photo of the mountain, clear now, by moonlight. With a long enough
exposure, photos by moonlight reveal all the colors we see by day, something David first
demonstrated for me some years ago on the side of Mount Hinman. At the first hairpin turn below the
sunrise overlook we stopped again. Bruce LaBar had pulled over and called in a couple of Northern
Saw-whet Owls. He even seen one of them. We did not, but we heard them make their wailing cry and
also a couple of their "skew" calls, which are shorter, higher-pitched and more like a chirp then
the Boreal Owl skiews. It was helpful to hear them both on the same night.
9/26/2015 ALS is not as bad as I expected (so far)
A dream last night:
I am in the kitchen in the house in Jackson, with Mom and John I think There is an earthquake and
the room begins to tilt. The kitchen floor tilts this way and that quite steeply, like 30 degrees.
I think to myself that the house could break up and from above the front driveway I see an image of
the house breaking separating into component pieces, like the front bathroom, hallway and living
room in one section and the dining room and bedroom in another. Then I am back in the kitchen and
the floor is tilting very steeply this way and that again. I think to myself that the house could
come off its foundations in the earthquake, and I see another view from outside, in which the house has
shifted off its foundation and moved out into the field. Then I am back in the kitchen again and the
floor is tilting even more steeply. Two tall cabinet doors, hinged on opposite sides of shelves
above the counter and latching in the center, fall off onto the slanted floor. I worry that the
dishes on the shelves could slide off on the floor and break but they don't. I grab the doors but I
cannot put them back where they belong so I slide them behind the counter against the wall so that
they won't be in the way. I wake up disoriented, as if things are still moving around.
The house is me and the earthquake represents ALS. The earthquake rocks the house, just as ALS has
dramatically changed my perspective. In the dream I expected the earthquake to break up the house
and shift it off its foundation, but neither seemed to have any effect from my perspective inside
the kitchen. In the same way I expected ALS to disrupt and destroy my life, but it has only
affected what I can do, not who I am. The tall upper cabinet doors falling off represent my arms
becoming useless. In the dream, I deal with that and carry on. ALS is changing my life but not
destroying me, at least not yet.
9/27/2015 Sunrise again - Ptarmigan at last
White-tailed Ptarmigan dirt-bathing
For a last hike for Darchelle's sister and family, we considered Snoqualamie mountain and Vesper
peak but decided on Fremont lookout from Sunrise. It would be an easier hike which would allow
Alicia to revisit her 50 mile birthday trek and would enable her mother to join us. I also thought
that I might finally see a White-tailed Ptarmigan and we might hear Boreal owls (both reported there
two days earlier) and that the parking lot would be a great place to see the lunar eclipse. It was,
and we did, and I did.
Start early we didn't but it worked out okay. I persuaded Ed and Delia to join us for their first
trip into the mountains this summer. They met us in Enumclaw and we drove up to Sunrise together,
arriving around 2PM. The air was very clear with a bit of a chill in it; the sky deep blue, the
great dome of Rainier gleaming white with recent snow and the meadows all russet and gold. Ed and
Delia found Grey Jays and Mountain Chickadees by the parking lot, both year birds. Darchelle with
her mom lagged behind due to her mom's sore knee, but they met us at Frozen Lake and continued on.
Ed was uncomfortable with the steep slopes in the last half mile to the lookout, so he and Delia
turned back to seek their year birds along the Wonderland trail. Gabe and I, ahead of the others,
scrambled up the talus to the knoll a few hundred yards south of the lookout. Alicia met us there a
few minutes later. She was all excited; she had seen a ptarmigan, or perhaps a grouse. Improbably,
it was a grouse, presumably attracted so far from cover by the abundant crowberry crop.
Gabe with Sooty Grouse
I set out to traverse the lower slopes in search of a real ptarmigan while he returned to the knoll
for the view. Shortly he called out to me, "Ptarmigan!". I raced back up to the top, gasping for
breath. Maybe ALS is beginning to affect my lung capacity. Whatever, Gabe had a real ptarmigan,
half molted from summer gray to winter white, attempting to dust-bathe in the moist soil on the very
top of the knoll. We had both peed within 10 feet of the spot not 10 minutes earlier. We took
photos while the bird grovelled and fluttered in the dirt, using its beak to flick brown soil onto
its mottled back. The dirt made no more impression than drops of water on a freshly waxed car. Its
bath over, the bird trotted over the brow of the hill and alternately rested by boulders and foraged
for berries and other alpine goodies. We tagged along and took photos. Everyone got to see it,
Gabe finding White-tailed Ptarmigan
White-tailed Ptarmigan in the dirt
White-tailed Ptarmigan cleaning up
Alicia with White-tailed Ptarmigan
White-tailed Ptarmigan with Gabe and Donna
We stopped along the trail for photos on the way back.
Darchelle and Donna
Darchelle, Donna and Alicia
The sun dropped behind the northwest ridge of Rainier and the moon, a thin pale crescent, rose in
the shadow of the mountain. As the color faded from the sky, the disc of the eclipsed moon began to
appear. I tried for photos. Everyone waited patiently while I fumbled with the camera but
ultimately it refused to focus on the damn, I mean dim, moon. We dug out a flashlight for the last
five minutes of the hike back to the car. I had counted on moonlight but there was none. The
temperature had plummeted after sunset so we crowded into the car and turned on the heat.
Evening light above Frozen Lake
Rising moon eclipsed
Eclipsed moon in the mountain's shadow
Thirty minutes later, refueled and mostly rewarmed, we ventured out after owls. The sky was black,
the moon a dusky orange disc slightly paler along the bottom edge. The stars, including a bright
Milky Way, cast more light. My hands were useless so Darchelle and Gabe helped me put on coat and
gloves and set up the phone and the little speaker. Six of us set off down the service road. We
tried to be quiet but it's hard to just stand there without whispering a little and shuffling around
a bit. I played the recording a few times but we only imagined we heard a response.
A brilliant crescent had appeared along the lower left edge of the dim orange moon. So beautiful
did it appear that I wondered if perhaps in my aesthetic response there might be some element of
primitive relief. As the crescent expanded across the face of the moon I recognized the shaded arc
for the first time as the shadow of the edge of the earth, visible evidence of the relative sizes of
the earth and moon.
Suddenly we heard a "skiew", and then another. A Boreal Owl! It wasn't particularly close, and it
did not call again even after I played the tape a few times, but Ed and Delia had their first Boreal
Owl. My hands were painfully cold and I was on the verge of shivering uncontrollably so we turned
around. Darchelle, Gabe and I walked ahead. Ed, fifty yards behind us, had the flashlight but the
moon was brilliant now and we didn't need it. We were nearly back to the car when we heard a very
loud and emphatic "skiew". It must have been right next to us. The cold forgotten, we froze and
scanned the gaps of dim sky between the tree silhouettes, hoping to catch a glimpse of the owl in
flight. Just then Ed called out to us. They had just heard an owl too. The two owls called
back and forth a few times but though we scanned the nearby trees with the flashlight, we never saw
10/1/2015 Mount Baker hikes
David hiking on Table Mountain
David contemplating the Coleman Glacier
David and I drove up the Mount Baker yesterday by way of Blaine, which is not exactly on the way
from Seattle but I was hoping to find two rare shorebirds that were reported at Semiamoo spit
yesterday. They were not there. We found some consolation at the Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro in
Bellingham where the food was excellent and the beers above average. My salmon was cooked perfectly
and the accompanying mashed potatoes and broccolini seasoned well, and David's Yam Enchiladas in
mole sauce were delicious. I'll get those next time. After dark we drove up the highway to Mount
Baker and camped in a damp site off the Hannegan Pass Road near Swamp Creek. Hemlock trees sheltered
us from both dew and moonlight and we slept for 10 hours.
Mount Baker from Table Mountain trail
fog over Baker Lake
Mount Shuksan from Table Mountain
Perhaps that was why we were so tired during the hike up Table Mountain this morning. I felt a
little faint the whole time and more so whenever I stopped. It felt as though my chest was
constricted and I couldn't get a full breath. Fortunately it is a short hike and not too difficult
after the switchbacks up the cliff. The views were stunning right from the start. Mount Shuksan
has to be one of the most scenic mountains in the state and Table Mountain offered a variety of
foregrounds to complement its rugged cliffs and glaciers. Mount Baker paled by comparison but
offered respectable views nonetheless.
The day was clear though somewhat smoky from lingering fires off to the east. Our camp was chilly
in the morning. I was comfortable in my bedroll but David wasn't quite warm enough in his sleeping
bag. We were expecting the hike to be cold but a significant temperature inversion surprised us
with temperatures approaching 70F on top of Table Mountain.
Mount Shuksan reflected in tarn on Table Mountain
Mount Shuksan reflected in tarn on Table Mountain
Mount Shuksan reflected in tarn on Table Mountain
Mount Baker from Table Mountain
Mount Shuksan from Table Mountain
Mount Shuksan from Table Mountain trail
Our afternoon hike, up the Heliotrope Ridge trail to the Coleman glacier overlook and beyond was
considerably more difficult than Table Mountain. It was the "beyond" part that was challenging. We
ate lunch in the trailhead parking lot then hiked the two and half miles up to the overlook in about
an hour. We kept up a good pace and felt good.
The view of the glacier and Mount Baker from the overlook was great but the edge of the ice was 100
feet or more below us at the foot of an impassable gravel cliff. We wanted to get closer than that
and we were particularly interested in a cluster of ice pinnacles above us where the glacier rolled
down over Heliotrope Ridge. We followed foot tracks as far as we could then hiked up ledges and
loose rock and gravel. We traversed around to the left of a cliff step with a waterfall down the
center of it. The crux of that traverse was a short section of ledge too steep to walk across. We
crossed the ledge on a narrow ramp just a couple of inches wide. At one point I lost my balance and
leaning into the ledge, put my hand out to support me. My arm buckled and I tipped forward into the
cliff, striking the rock with my forehead. It bled a little but didn't hurt much. Slipping off the
ramp and down the ledge would have hurt a lot more.
Mount Baker and the Coleman Glacier
Above that point the footing was miserable, generally loose gravel and unconsolidated rock on top of
glacier-polished slanting ledges. Wherever any amount of dirt and gravel had accumulated, it was
saturated with water and turned to mud when we stood on it. We scrambled up to the edge of the ice
which was almost black with dirt and gravel and melted out into grotesque figures. The pinnacles up
close were less impressive than the ice cliff which loomed above us. A block of ice 100 feet across
and 15 feet thick had split off from the main glacier so we explored into the narrow gap between
them. A cold wind was blowing down onto us and my hands hurt from the cold but I couldn't force
them into my pockets to keep warm. As we started down David helped me put on a coat though his
hands were also almost numb from the cold.
David at the edge of the Coleman Glacier
David in glacier
Edge of the Coleman Glacier on Heliotrope Ridge
Insecure footing at the melting edge of the glacier
David in gap between ice blocks
The descent was treacherous. I felt that with any step I could slip, topple over and start skidding
down over the ledges and loose rock. My arms would be useless to break my fall. I had hoped to
find an alternate route down and thereby avoid the narrow ramp but it was the only way. It went
okay and after that the rest of the way down to the trail was easy. My hands even warmed up enough
to take some pictures albeit not without considerable fumbling with the camera.
Safely back down below the ice
Heliotrope Ridge trail
Stream/avalanche gully off Heliotrope Ridge
10/4/2015 Portland Marathon
I drove down to Portland with Darchelle to run the marathon. Having only run 13 times in the last
three months, I would have been glad to switch from the marathon to the half marathon but Portland
doesn't allow that. If I wanted the shirt I'd have to run the whole thing. So we did. I
considered running with her dad but wasn't sure I'd be able to keep up with him so I ran with
Darchelle instead. She was excited about all the high-quality cast-off clothing littering the start
area and the first mile or two of the course. She collected more than a dozen items. I kidded
her about Christmas shopping.
During the first half I insisted that we walk frequently and as a result we were still able to run
some in the second half, but altogether I don't think we ran more than about 8 miles. We stopped
for photos now and then and also at a baby blue piano along the course somewhere around mile 20
where Darchelle sat down and played the theme from Chariots of Fire while the few stragglers behind
us trickled by. It was stirring in a humble sort of way.
Her dad ran a great race and broke six hours for the first time, finishing just under 5:56. We
finished somewhere around 7:15, our only claim to fame being that we were the first runners to
finish after they closed the official finishing line. At least we weren't too sore afterwards,
mostly just tired and hungry. She and her family traditionally share a post race meal at the Old
Spaghetti Factory. Nothing against their tradition but the food was forgettable.
10/6/2015 Ilwaco birding
Bar-tailed Godwit (foreground on left) with Marbled Godwits
On Sunday afternoon both a Bar-tailed and a Hudsonian Godwit were reported among the Marbled Godwits
at the Ilwaco Marina along with two Sharp-tailed sandpipers. The Hudsonian Godwit and the
sandpipers would both have been life birds, and I've been looking for both of them for two years
now, but I was busy
after the marathon and so was unable to make the two hour trip up to Ilwaco. Thinking the birds
might still be there, I decided to drive down yesterday afternoon. I called Blair to see if he
wanted to go and he was already out on the coast. A few hours later he reported back that the Hudsonian
Godwit was apparently a gonewit but that he had seen the Bar-tailed along with a Palm Warbler.
Those two year birds were enough to persuade me to make the trip.
Delayed by packing and by a massive traffic jam on I-5, I didn't get to Ilwaco until 6 PM, about a
half hour before sunset. At least I made good use of the time by talking on the phone with Mom and
John and with Jennifer. The godwit flock was tightly bunched up on a grassy island east of the
marina and I was unable to pick out any that looked different from the others. I did, however, find
Blair's Palm Warbler right away so that was nice.
I spent the night at the ramshackle but friendly Hacienda motel, the first one I came to after I
left the marina. The beds in my upstairs room were comfortable but I could hear the TV in the room
next door all night long. I ate supper and caught the fourth quarter of the Seahawks game along
with the enthusiastic local fans at the Lost Roo in Long Beach. My Counterbalance Dark Ale and
portobello burger were both quite good.
I stayed up late on the phone with Susan but
woke up early anyhow. The wind shifted to the southwest and the sun peered over the horizon only
briefly before it was obscured by the incoming stratus overcast. I bundled up in a down coat and
neck warmer and hiked back out on the willow-fringed embankment overlooking the bay and the small
grassy islands where the godwits had been at sunset. All but one were gone. I found them off the
east end of the embankment and watched as they got flooded off their roost out there by the rising
tide. They flew back to the grassy island where I found them again, foraging energetically at the
waters edge and bathing in the breaking wind waves. This time it wasn't difficult to pick out the
Bar-tailed by its streaked back and its pale barred tail. Though it was pretty far away for photos,
through the scope I had my best views of the species since I first saw it in 1982.
Morning view southwest from the Ilwaco marina embankment
Godwit flock with gulls
Bar-tailed Godwit preening
I made it home in time for my massage with Monica.
A dream last night:
Nelson B asked me to join him in crossing on a cable
suspended high above the ground between two tall buildings. The cable actually consisted of two
wires, one above the other, and each enclosed within a wooden housing about eight inches wide. In
cross-sections, the housings were shaped like a simple house. We straddled the lower cable housing
and scooted along on our butts, reaching up with both arms to hold onto the upper cable housing when
the one we were sitting on started to become unstable. The crossing was not that difficult except
at the two junctions where the housing we were sitting on became quite unstable and it was difficult
to hold onto the upper cable housing. That was a little scary but not too bad.
When we reached the far building, Nelson easily climbed into it at a sort of loading dock with large
compartments but I was not able to do that. When I tried, I suddenly found myself hanging off the
edge of another loading dock, with my arms and elbows resting on the concrete platform, my chin on
my hands, and my body dangling off the edge of the dock with only empty space for many hundreds of
feet below me. I was not in immediate danger of falling but neither was I able to climb up onto the
loading platform. There was nothing to grab onto to pull myself up. Nelson and a couple of young
people wanted to help me get up. I told them to find a piece of rope but the pieces they found were
either too short or too weak to hold my weight. I had a suitable piece of rope in the knapsack on
my back but I was unable to get it out. Suddenly I felt turbulence, as if I were being buffeted by
waves crashing into the loading dock, and I slipped farther off the edge so that I was hanging on
only by my fingers. Because my arms were weak I was unable to lift myself back to my previous
position and I knew it was only a matter of time before my hands would fail and I would fall. I
woke up very afraid.
It seems pretty clear this is another ALS dream. My recollection of Nelson
B is that he was a nice man (as people with ALS are
reported to be nice) and that he died. The two junctions in the cable I believe represent the two
anniversaries of my self-diagnosis of ALS. In my third year of this disease, neither I nor anyone
else can rescue me from my predicament. In a relatively short time my arms will fail completely.
That is a frightening prospect.
10/18/2015 Fort Steilacoom Marathon
First, a dream last night:
I walked up to my Subaru Forester and opened the driver's side door. A boy aged maybe 10 to 13 was
sitting in the driver's seat so he moved over to the passenger side. While in the driver's seat, he
had tipped over a container of raspberries on the floor in front of the seat. He helped me pick
them up and we ate some of them. The last few were dirty from being on the floor but he picked them
up and put them in the container anyhow even though I did not want him to.
Then I was in the backseat of the car and we were driving 60 miles an hour down a narrow road. I
was alarmed at our speed and that there was no one in the driver's seat. I looked again and my
childhood friend Doug R was now driving. I worried that
the road would end and sure enough it did, stopping abruptly and becoming an elevated path like a
little causeway leading to someone's house. The car skidded to a stop, high-centered on the path so
we could not move it.
The homeowner, an older man with a wheelbarrow filled with bundles of newspapers, came up behind us.
He was yelling at us so I decided I had better get out and talk to him. He was so angry that he was
lighting the bundles of newspaper on fire and shoving them under the back of the car so that the car
would catch fire. I looked in the back of the car and it was filled with glowing coals and flames.
I searched for a stick that I could use to move the burning bundles of newspaper out from underneath
the car. I didn't find any sticks but I did find a long bamboo pole and used that. The car stopped
I talked with the man. He seemed to want to be helpful now, telling me that if I wanted to sell
newspapers I could take them to the apartment building down the hill. As he talked I listened to
him out of courtesy but I knew that he was confused because he was the one who had brought the
newspapers, not me.
I walked up to the front of the car. The hood was open and there was no engine in the engine
compartment. For a moment I wondered whether the engine on a Subaru was supposed to be in the front
or the back then I realized that someone had taken the engine out. There were two boys there, the
sons of the homeowner, and they had taken out the engine, moved it into a garage, and were going to
work on it. Meanwhile the car was dead because it had no engine.
The dream depicts various aspects of my experience since I discovered two years ago (in my 60th
year) that I had ALS. The Forester represents me, and traveling too fast down the road represents
my life passing by too quickly. The angry homeowner is like me when I first learned of my condition
and wanted to kill myself. The initial absence of a driver followed by Doug, a friend from childhood,
taking over represents me taking charge of my life and living in my truth (as they might say at
Soltura). The boys taking the engine probably represents their memory of me after I die.
10/25/2015 Another dream
Last night I dreamed about a bear:
I am riding a school bus on a mountain road (like near Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park). We
have already seen two bears when I spot another larger bear, sitting or lying on a platform or
boulder on the hillside above us. The bear has a face and long silky black hair. I try to take a
picture through the bus window but the glass isn't clear enough, then someone lowers the window but
I still don't get a picture. The bus turns a corner so we are above the bear, which is in a sort of
exhibit like at a zoo. The bear starts to climb out of its tree and on the way down intentionally
knocks a large bucket with scraps of food in it out of the tree onto the ground. "Bears do that", I
Then I am with Joe Gill in a room or hallway when suddenly he runs up to the bear and waves his arms and
shouts "Boowahoahaha" at it as if trying to surprise it or scare it, then runs back to me. I am afraid
that the bear will come after us but it goes down a hallway parallel to ours, and then I worry that
it might break through the wall into our hallway.
A month ago David and I saw two bears on our day up at Sunrise at Mount Rainier. That provides the
setting but the meaning of the dream is unclear.
11/5/2015 Birding with ALS
Visitor's Center pond, Nisqually NWR
Heron and Bald Eagles, Nisqually NWR
McAllister Slough, Nisqually NWR
Yesterday I joined the Wednesday morning birding group at Nisqually. It was a difficult morning. I
had wanted to leave at seven but did not get up in time. I made coffee as usual but my morning
bowel movements were slow in coming. I have to poop before I leave the house because once I'm out I
can't count on being able to pull up my pants. Because I can't wipe very well I rinsed off in the
shower afterwards, then I couldn't do up either the snap or the buckle on my pants. Without at
least one or the other, my pants won't stay up. I worked on the problem for about a half hour,
trying other belts and other pants and even a bungee cord but my hands were just too weak to do the
job. I looked for my needle nose pliers but have misplaced them. That however gave my hands enough
of a rest that I was finally able to snap my pants. By now it was 8:30 but I knew the group would
move slowly and I could catch them. Except there was a huge traffic jam on I-5. My phone projected
a 45 minute delay. I sat in the car for 20 minutes debating whether or not to go. Finally I went
because I knew that if I didn't I would just sit at home angry and depressed.
The traffic jam had cleared and I made good time down to Nisqually. There I faced the next problem
- putting on my coat and zipping it up. Without it I wouldn't be able to stay out very long. I
managed to get it on, and then by some minor miracle I was able to get the zipper started. It has
probably been a month since I've done that successfully. Nonetheless, I was not able to zip it up.
I tried wedging my hand in the door and squatting and I tried doubling over to grab the zipper with
my teeth. A carload of women had parked next to me and I was starting to feel embarrassed about my
antics so I thought to myself "what the hell" and walked up to one of them and asked her to zip up
my coat. She did so with a smile and no questions asked.
I slid my head under the strap of my camera to hang it around my neck then used my teeth to pull
open the zippers of my spotting scope cover. I stood the tripod up and hooked the top of it between
my chin and my bony shoulder. Successfully shouldering the scope, I set off to go birding. At the
far side of the parking lot I set the scope up to scan for the Red-shouldered Hawk, my target bird
for the day. I didn't find it but when I went to pick up the scope again, I couldn't get it back on
my shoulder. I guess my hands were just done but I was just about undone. Angrily I dragged the
scope back to the car and set off again without it.
Harlan's Hawk, Nisqually NWR
Northern Harrier and Red-tail, Nisqually NWR
Peregrine Falcon, Nisqually NWR
As has been my habit with anger, I tried turning it against myself. Whom else can I blame? I don't
believe God exists so there's not much satisfaction in blaming him. But there wasn't much
satisfaction in blaming myself either. Hating myself just doesn't feel honest anymore. I may think
about suicide but I really don't want to end my life the way I used to.
Wood Duck, Nisqually NWR
Wood Duck, Nisqually NWR
Female King Eider, Tacoma waterfront
Heading home a few hours later I tried to be miserable but couldn't really justify it. I had caught
up to the group and enjoyed a nice visit with Shep whom I hadn't seen in a while. The weather had
been perfect and it was fun to be out again with other birders. I hadn't missed anything important
by arriving late. Then at the end of the walk I got a call from Art Wong about a King Eider along
Ruston Way in Tacoma just a few minutes of my route home. It was still there when I arrived. Then
Blair Bernson showed up, and Ken Brown stopped by walking his poodle. We marveled together at the
Eider until dusk then Blair and I shared dinner together at the Lobster Shoppe, swapping birding
tales over beer until the rush hour traffic cleared. Despite its challenges, yesterday was a good
Then last night I dreamed about robbing a stagecoach.
An accomplice and I were planning to rob a covered wagon. We spotted the wagon at the far end of a
long and imposing hallway at the foot of a wide set of stairs. The wagon had been turned broadside
to us and the top had been removed. It was made of dark brown wood and the sides were bulging out
slightly like someone with a potbelly.
The wagon began shooting down the hallway at us, filling the air with bullets. Some were small and
dark, others were larger and silver. We took shelter in a shallow alcove leading to a double
doorway. Bullets were smacking into the white molding which framed the alcove. They were striking
very close to my head but I was not worried about them. I was more concerned about the law man
sitting with us. He was a big silent man dressed in a blue suit with yellow trim. My concern was
that in order to rob the wagon we would have to kill the law man and that would be a crime. I
wanted to talk to my partner about it but he was already headed down the hallway towards the wagon
so he couldn't hear me. I also wondered momentarily what was in the wagon.
Then I heard knocking at the doors. I knew that it was the guy who was defending the wagon. He
knew we were there and he could easily shoot us through the doors if he chose so I went ahead and
opened the door. He was an earnest young man and instead of aiming a gun at me, he held out his
hand and offered me a green package of Chiclets.
At first the dream made little sense to me. It was like a movie in which I just happened to
participate. Then in my session with Lynn this morning we pieced together the meaning, and it appears to
depict my conflicting responses as I struggle to live with this disease. All of the figures in the
dream represent me as does the wagon itself. The topless and potbellied wagon represents my body.
ALS victims develop a potbelly as their abdominal muscles wither. I'm not there yet but I'm headed
that direction. To rob the wagon is to end my life. My accomplice and I are plotting my suicide.
He reminds me of Bruce Pappendick, a former pastor and friend with very intense feelings whose
coming out as gay some years ago came to mind when I began to consider leaving Susan. He represents
the intolerable sadness and anger I feel as I face the prospect of losing everything I love. The
blue and yellow suit of the law man reminds me of the Boston Marathon shirts I've been wearing
recently on my outings. The silent law man represents the active and creative part of me. I find my
greatest satisfaction in doing and making, but ALS is steadily taking that away from me. The young
man defending the wagon reminds me of Michael (I think his name was) who worked with us on the third
year of the Peregrine project after college. I resented him because he asked for and was given the
job of photographing the peregrines up on the cliff. He represents me honoring and valuing myself
by taking the initiative to ask for and pursue what I want and need. The "I" in the dream is the
executive, the me who decides (or doesn't).
Lynn suggested that the dream was born of my effort to integrate these conflicting approaches and
responses to my condition. The pain of grief and the idea of continuing decline push me towards
Northern Mockingbird, Olympia
ending my life. My body puts up a vigorous defense against that prospect, a visceral rejection of
the idea of self-inflicted death. Ending my life would also end my doing and creating before I have
a chance to find out what new forms those might take as the disease progresses. The law man would
be silenced. I also wonder what's in the wagon, what resources of emotional and spiritual growth I
might find in myself as my body declines. Meanwhile I no longer offer hostility (bullets) but
rather kindness (Chiclets?) in my attitude and actions towards myself.
I was unable to recall any association with Chiclets.
After therapy I drove down to Nisqually again where I again did not find the Red-shouldered Hawk,
then continued on to Olympia where I did find a recently reported Northern Mockingbird, year bird
#324, before returning to Seattle for a dentist appointment.
11/21/2015 King Eider again
Delia, Ed and Joshua
Ed and Delia hadn't seen the King Eider so we drove down to Tacoma to look for it. It was in its
usual spot along Reston Way near the old ferry, and this time it was quite close to shore in good
light, devouring small crabs one after another. I took pictures. There were other birders there
too, a young man named Joshua whose posts I have read on tweeters and also Heather Roskelly from the
Tacoma Advanced Birding Club. People walking by stopped to join our little crowd and and Ed told
them about this rare visitor from the Arctic. Afterwards we considered going over to Brown's point
to scope the Sound for Ancient Murrelets but I decided our chances for success were slim so we went
Female King Eider
Female King Eider with crab
Female King Eider
11/26/2015 A tough run
I ran the Wattle Waddle marathon in the morning. I had a difficult time and did not finish. I did
the early start at 7 AM in hopes of finishing by 1 PM so we could get off to Walla Walla in time for
Thanksgiving dinner. The weather was clear and frosty so I wore my running pants over my shorts for
the first time this fall, and wool mittens to keep my hands warm. Unfortunately by mile two I
already needed to pee. I spotted a Porta-potty out in the middle of the Husky football parking lot
and used it but I had to pull down my running pants and then I couldn't pull them back up again. I
also could not get my mittens back on again and there was no one around whom I could ask for help.
I tried tying my pants around my waist. When I could not do that standing up I tried lying down on
my back since sometimes I can do things with my hands resting on my stomach that I cannot manage to
do standing up. Not only was I not able to tie my pants lying down but when I tried to get up I
discovered I could not do that either. I rocked back and forth but my hands were too weak to push
off the ground. Finally I managed to roll over and get up. My hands were now too cold to get a
good grip on the pants and mittens so I cradled them in my arms and waddled back to the trail. When
I tried to run everything fell on the ground, so I called Darchelle to come help me. She got lost
on the way over and didn't show up for another half hour. I was very cold but at least the sun was
up now. She stuck my pants in the car and my hands in my mittens and I resumed running, in
shorts. I had to pee six more times in the next three hours, and every time, I had to take off my
mittens then ask someone to help me put them back on again. At first I was embarrassed to ask but I
got used to it. The mittens also made it very difficult to stick my hands in my running belt, the
way I always do to keep my arms from flopping around. I generally had to ask for help with that
too. All the stops to pee and fiddle with mittens probably added up to an hour and a half so when I
finally made it back to the start with four miles left to go, it was after 12:30. I quit. It was
probably a good idea to stop anyhow because my legs were really sore at that point.
We would have made good time over to Walla Walla except that we got lost in Tri-Cities and almost
ran out of gas. Her folks and everyone waited until we arrived before starting dinner. Everyone
included Darchelle's uncle Claude and aunt Berna and their three twin teenage daughters, and her
cousin Andy and his wife Xhairene. We ate by candlelight in her mom's open dining room. It was
their first Thanksgiving in their new house. Dinner was a delicious mix of vegetarian dishes, of
which I succeeded in not partaking too much. I was grateful that Darchelle sat beside me in case I
needed her to feed me, and even more grateful that I didn't end up needing her to feed me.
12/11/2015 Manure water dream
Last night I dreamed about getting doused with manure water:
It is my responsibility to keep a road clear of debris. The road is a paved country road which runs
between fields, pastures and woodlots. Two yellow school buses are moving slowly along the side of
the road towards me, mowing the road margin with long cutting blades which sweep in a semicircle
out across the road, dropping grass clippings on the pavement which I need to sweep up. I am
pushing a wide but flexible sort of broom in front of me and it is not working very well. I think
it would work better if I could pull it behind me but I don't have a rope with which to do that.
The buses are behind me now and the grass clippings have become thicker and finer, as if from a golf
course. I try to sweep them off the road with my boots but they are wet and gooey, like manure.
Using a large scoop shovel now, I try to push the manure off the road. The road ahead has large
bumps in it just before a low rise beyond which it drops down out of sight. I know there is a farm
up ahead and I don't want the manure to run off the road into the farm. On the uphill side of
the road by some trees and perhaps a stone wall, a manure sprinkler is spraying a mixture of water
and manure onto the road around me. The manure water is running down the road and actually doing a
better job of clearing the road than I am with my shovel. Dodging the spray I run over to the
sprinkler and try to turn it off but there is no way to do so. I attempt to avoid getting wet as I
run away but I don't succeed and a heavy jet of the manure water strikes me squarely in the upper
Whether related to the dream or not I don't know, but I had a lot of anger today - anger about the
weakness in my hands, anger about how I cannot dress myself, cannot wash my dishes, cannot slice a
tomato without cutting my fingers, cannot wash my own hair. I hate the ALS that has taken up
residence between my shoulder blades and is destroying the nerves to my arms and shoulders and
hands, robbing me of the activities I love and of the ability take care of my body and my home.
12/7/2015 Ancient Murrelets
Long-tailed Ducks at John Wayne Marina
Point Wilson Lighthouse
Back-to-back birding trips across the Sound this weekend. Yesterday we drove out as far as Sequim
with Ed and Delia. I was hoping to find Ancient Murrelets. They were reported recently at Port
Townsend but I saw them up close along the beach on Dungeness Spit last year so decided to go there
instead. We had a nice walk on the beach and saw a pair of Marbled Murrelets but no Ancient ones.
Today Darchelle and I drove back out to Port Townsend and from the lighthouse at Point Wilson we saw
more than 100 of them. As I wrote in my checklist
, "In one three-minute period viewing through the scope at 20x, I
counted 56 Ancient Murrelets flying left to right in groups of 3-9 and occasionally solo, along with
four Common Murres, two Pigeon Guillemots and a cormorant or two. Most were well offshore but we
were able to see half a dozen groups at different times splashdown and immediately submerge, and a
couple of groups landed close enough to clearly see the black cap, white neck and gray back though
no bird ever stayed on the surface more than a few seconds."
We took a break for lunch at the Fountain Café in town. I forget what we ate but it was delicious.
While we are in the restaurant the car battery went dead so we hung out for another hour waiting for
AAA to show up and give us a jump. Since by that point there wasn't really enough time to go
anywhere else we drove back out to the lighthouse. The southeast wind from this morning had nearly
died out and the tide was flowing out full force past the point. Most of the Murrelets were gone;
we only saw a few. Year bird 325.
Longview Orange-crowned Warbler
Longview Yellow-throated Warbler
A Yellow-throated Warbler was reported in Longview last week so Laurel Parshall and I carpooled down
there on Wednesday to look for it. We were not successful though we did find a Mockingbird.
Unfortunately though rare in Washington it was not even a year bird for me since I saw one in
Olympia a month ago. Then it turned out that Darchelle's cousin was conveniently hosting a baby
shower for Andy and Xyrene in Longview today. We drove down early and searched for the warbler but
could not find it. After the shower we tried again and this time we were successful, with barely
enough light left in the sky to get a photo or two.
12/25/2015 Christmas in Jackson
Mom and John walking around the Triangle
Mount Washington, Christmas day
David and I flew back to Jackson for Christmas. Darchelle didn't come, but all the grandchildren were present
along with Eric and Sarah and Roger. The ground was snow-free, good for walking and hiking. There wasn't even
much ice although the ground was frozen.
Birch glade on Wildcat backside trail
Fir forest on Wildcat backside trail
Mount Washington from summit of Wildcat
Boreal Chickadee on Wildcat
Dead moose on Wildcat backside trail
The day after Christmas was sunny and mild so I hiked up the backside of Wildcat Mountain all the
way to the top. Unlike last February
I brought a camera this time, the Canon G3X which I bought last summer to replace the Nikon D600
which had become too heavy for me to handle. This time I was able to photograph a Boreal Chickadee,
though the shot is nothing special. Other notable sights included a dead moose in the trail
and long blades of ice in still moss-lined pools where the trail traverses boggy areas.
12/30/2015 Okanagan birding
Ellen and Andy birding near Chesaw
Swans and geese on the ice
Darchelle drove me over to Ellensburg Tuesday morning before work so that I do a birding trip in the
Okanogan with Andy and Ellen. As I emailed them earlier this month "I would particularly like to
find some of the Eastern Washington wintering species before the end of the year, such as snow
Bunting, American tree sparrow, bohemian waxwing, white-winged Crossbill and maybe even a snowy owl
or gyrfalcon.". As it turned out we found three of those species plus Sharp-tailed Grouse and
Common Redpoll in two full days of touring the Waterville Plateau and the Havillah area.
Sharp-tailed Grouse in Water Birch
We found snow everywhere. Lakes were mostly frozen. We drove up the lower Grand Coulee, worked our
way north and west across Waterville Plateau to Mansfield and continued north down Bridgeport Hill
Road then north along the Okanogan River to Omak. Along the way I picked up a solitary Snow Bunting
among hundreds of Horned Larks north of Mansfield, and two Sharp-tailed Grouse in the valley along
Bridgeport Hill Road. Other highlights included a small flock of Gray Partridge half hidden in soft
snow and a crowd of California Quail around feeders in Mansfield. No Bohemian Waxwings at
Bridgeport though. We ate at the Breadline Café and slept at the Omak Inn. Sharing a room, I
inadvertently kept Andy up by talking on the phone with Darchelle after we turned the lights
California Quail in Mansfield
Great Horned Owl near Havillah
Gray-crowned Rosy Finches
We started before sunrise on Wednesday morning, heading north to Havillah in hopes of a Great Gray
Owl. No such luck but we ran into a nice collection of birds in a mile or so after turning south
off Havillah Road onto N. Siwash Creek Road. First we had all three nuthatches then a big flock of
crossbills including White-winged, then as we were driving out past a residence we watched a Goshawk
give chase to a couple of Pine Grosbeaks. Definitely an Okanogan moment. Soon afterwards a couple
of Common Redpolls flew by. Year bird #4 for the trip. We had another exciting moment above
Havillah when we spotted a large gray owl on a post below the road, but it had horns. Continuing,
we found Gray-crowned Rosy finches as expected at the Nealy Road feeders, more crossbills and
grosbeaks along Mary Ann Greek Road and a flock of Common Redpolls in sunny Tonasket along with well
over 100 California Quail.
Mary Ann Greek
Common Redpolls in Tonasket
We wrapped up the trip with a tour of Cameron Lakes Road from north to south. Not very birdy but I
did pick up a final year bird, American Tree Sparrow, at sunset aat the ranch about 4 miles up from
Highway 97. The weedy marsh just north of the ranch is a typical spot for them and they were there
despite the heavy snow cover.
Cowboy and calf
American Tree Sparrows
Darchelle met us in Ellensburg and we continued on over to Walla Walla for New Year's.